In the world of comedy, two countries stand out from all the others. Or at least, that’s how writer-performer Ricky Gervais sees it. âThe two big ones,â he says. âGreat Britain and America. Sorry, rest of the world. Over-simplification or not, it’s easy to see how Gervais came to this conclusion. These two nations have dominated comedy in film and television for decades. But what exactly separates British humor from American humor? The web series Now you see it addresses this question in a video essay titled âBritish against. American comedy: what’s the difference? While the essay is reluctant to make easy diagnoses, a lingering theme is that Americans possess a level of optimism that their British counterparts simply lack. the UK and we versions of Gervais’ most famous creation, Office, are used to illustrate this point. David Brent (Gervais) and Michael Scott (Steve Carrell) are oblivious and blundering fools, but Michael’s antics inspire sympathy in those around him, while Brent’s blunders are nothing but embarrassment and of discomfort. It is telling that Michael leaves his series on a note of grace, leaving his job by choice, while David is shown crawling for his meager position. Why? Gervais says it’s because Americans grow up thinking they can be president someday.
But maybe England is winning the war, so to speak. The video contains plenty of examples of how British pessimism might seep into American comedy as well. The protagonists of both Louie and Calm your enthusiasm, for example, often end their episodes in complete humiliation and defeat. And It’s always nice in Philadelphia might be a scathing criticism of American optimism. His characters have way too much self-confidence, which often leads to unpleasant consequences for anyone who gets in their way. Meanwhile, the eternally funny Stephen Fry has a prime example of the fundamental difference between British and American attitudes towards humor.
You know this scene in Animal house where there’s a guy playing folk music on the guitar, and John Belushi takes the guitar and destroys it. And the cinema loves it. [Belushi] just crushes it then wiggles his eyebrows at the camera. Everyone thinks, âGod, how great is he! Well, the British comedian would like to play the folk singer. We want to play failure.
Fry is right. It’s hard to imagine an American wanting to play the part of Stephen Bishop. It is a nation of Belushis.